Day in the Life: Seth Anderson, Teaching Consultant

When you ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you probably won’t hear “A teaching consultant!” Careers in instructional design, faculty support, online teaching, educational technologies and teaching research and evaluation are not as well-known, and thus, there isn’t as much information available to applicants for such roles to understand what it takes to do this work. This Day in the Life series hopes to show people what our work entails—the skills required, the daily activities involved, and the satisfaction we find in doing it.

Seth Anderson

Name: Seth Anderson

Job Title: Teaching Consultant

Educational Background: Master of Educational Technology, Boise State University

Starting Date: July 2011

How did you get interested in this type of work? I have held jobs in higher education for my entire career; starting four days after I completed my undergraduate degree, actually.  In the early days, much of my work was focused on helping faculty become more comfortable using technology as part of their teaching.  Over time, as that technology has become more ubiquitous on campus, and faculty have become more comfortable using it, the focus of the work that I have done has shifted to be about more broadly improving the classroom experience in higher education.  

What interested you in this position? I really like being involved in helping improve teaching.  Duke Learning Innovation (although when I started, it was the Center for Instructional Technology) had a great reputation in this area, and I jumped at the chance to work for a department that was well-known for its sharp focus on improving the educational experience.

What were some of the jobs you had before this role? My first job after finishing my undergraduate work in 1998 was serving as the Help Desk Coordinator at my previous school, combining the support services of two separate computing departments into one entity to better serve the campus community.  After that, I worked as the Office Manager for one of those departments for a couple of years before becoming an Instructional Technologist for the same department.  I held that job until 2011, when I came to Duke.

What three skills are essential for your work?

1. An understanding of how students learn.  We know that students learn better when they are actively involved with the course material; i.e. doing things in class rather than just listening and taking notes.  Despite this, many faculty and students still envision the university classroom experience as being primarily lecture-based.  

2.  The ability to collaborate.  Most of the work that I do involves heavy collaboration with other colleagues and instructors.

3. Patience.  The process of changing long-standing pedagogical practices is a slow one.  Doing things differently is hard, and potentially frustrating, for faculty and students, and I often find myself advocating for, and trying to radiate, a sense of calm and patience.

My Work

No two days are alike.  The “typical” day has always been pretty atypical, particularly in the days before COVID, when I was working in close physical proximity to all of my colleagues.  The way that we work is so collaborative and organic that I would often find myself pulled into impromptu discussions and brainstorming sessions with my colleagues.  We’re working primarily from home at the moment, so it’s a little easier to create and stick to a schedule, but each day is still always different, depending on the time of year, what particular projects I might be working on, etc.  

My Day

9:00 AM – I usually start the day by checking emails and Slack messages.  There might be some new email requests for help from instructors; usually in the form of a question or a request to meet.  This morning, a colleague has posed a question about Sakai in our “Crowdsource” Slack channel, which is a space we use to collaborate with each other to answer questions and solve problems.  Slack is an important communication tool in our department (we also use it to share our daily Wordle scores with each other).

10:00 AM – I’m on a search committee to fill a position in Duke Learning Innovation, so I spend an hour reading through a large pool of applications.  Our department had fewer than 15 people when I started in this position 11 years ago, and we’ve expanded to over 25 people now!  That number is still growing.  Depending on when you’re reading this, we may even be hiring now!  Check our website!

Seth’s most demanding colleague, Beaker

11:00 AM – Since I don’t usually eat more than a handful of almonds or some yogurt for breakfast, I’m normally hungry and ready to eat lunch during the 11:00 hour.  What’s in the fridge?  I could go for a Lean Cuisine with a homemade salad.  Nah…it’s leftover pizza, reheated over low heat in a skillet with the lid on.  (This is the only way to reheat pizza, in my opinion.  You get a crispy bottom, melted cheese, and everything else on top warms back through.)  I read some more applications while I eat, then drop everything for a bit in order to play with the cat; he insists.

12:00 PM – I pick up where I left off with the applications for about another half hour.  There are some great candidates!

12:30 PM – I’ve had a couple of emails from instructors requesting help in the last few hours, so I dive into answering those.  One has a seemingly straightforward question about the best way to set up a space for students to share their reactions to weekly reading assignments.  Sakai Forums might work for this, but the best answer for an individual instructor always depends on a number of finer details.  In this case: What questions are they asking the students to answer? Do they want their students to respond to each other? Are they grading the responses?  I write up a response posing some of these questions in an attempt to dig into some of those details.  I also offer to meet via Zoom to talk about the assignment; it’s often easier to talk through situations like this rather than to try to tackle them via repeated back-and-forth emails.  I spend a lot of my time having discussions like this.

1:30 PM – Some Learning Innovation colleagues and I are presenting two sessions at a national educational development conference in a few weeks, so I spend some time thinking about and making notes on those presentations.  One of the presentations will be on a tool that we developed that aimed to increase student retention of course material by sending them timely questions via text message.  The other will demonstrate a collaborative learning technique called a Jigsaw activity, and will talk about how we used it to help a cohort of faculty members both learn the technique and to address issues about student teamwork.

3:00 PM – Two of my fellow Teaching Consultants and I have a meeting with a faculty member via Zoom.  She’d like to discuss potential changes to an activity that she tried in her class that didn’t really work as planned.  We listen to her go through the steps of the activity and take copious notes.  When we’re done, my colleagues and I sort of go “round robin,” offering our suggestions and frequently picking up each others’ ideas to expand on them.  I love this kind of collaborative session; it really highlights how effectively our team collectively approaches problems.  The instructor leaves the meeting with a big list of ideas to try, and she mentions how helpful this was and how excited she is to put some of these ideas into practice.

4:15 PM – I round out the day by answering some more emails and Slack messages, then diving into a couple more applications for the open position.  At 5:00, the cat reminds me that it’s his time again…